What to Eat
Despite a score of other reasons to love Southeast Asia, the amazing food is always a highlight for any traveler and eating in Southeast Asia is a source of great fun! Southeast Asians are particularly proud of their world-famous food — and for good reason. Their food is often more flavorful and spicier than the West. Once you have spoiled yourself with authentic Southeast Asian food, meals at home will suddenly seem a little less exciting. The gastronomic delights in Southeast Asia would be reason enough to visit!
Recommending food for a traveler to eat is a herculean task as taste buds and culture varies, but it’s always fun trying them while on holiday who knows you might not have just one but two servings! We have compiled some foods worth trying when in Southeast Asia.
Local Favorite Food You Must Try
PAD THAI of Thailand, perhaps the most well-known of food from Southeast Asia, Thailand’s famous pad thai is enjoyed around the world. The stir-fried noodle has become popular because it tastes yummy and is served with a variety of seasonings to suit your tastes.
Flat rice noodles are stir-fried with egg, spices, and meat or shrimp to create a dish full of flavor. Bean sprouts and optional ground peanuts give a crunchy texture to the noodles; lime juice adds a citrus zest. Recipes vary, but tamarind paste and fish sauce blend to create a slightly sweet, salty, and spicy flavor — an addictive combination!
TOM YAN GOON (Spicy Shrimp Soup) of Thailand, no other dishes can defeat this renowned Tom Yam Goong as the optimal representative of Thai gourmet. Tom Yam Goong is truly one of a kind with its fierce spiciness and sourness and a blatant use of fragrant herbs including galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, shallot, tamarind and chili pepper. There are two styles of Tom Yam; the clear spicy soup and thick spicy soup. The latter is cooked by adding coconut milk or milk to the broth in order to thicken the stock and give the dish a milder flavor. Tom Yam is very versatile and can be made with prawns, chicken, fish and mix of seafood, and mushroom. Tom Yam Goong is the most popular variety of Tom Yam since Spicy Shrimp Soup is the original. Though not very surprising, Tom Yam Goong is definitely a signature dish of Thailand.
VIETNAMESE PHO is perhaps the most popular & famous vietnamese dish of all time, pronounced something like “fuuuh,” You can try two main types of Pho, the first and most popular is Pho Bo (Beef) with the other being the chicken variety Pho Ga. Pho is made with rice noodles and the dish is always served with a plate of fresh mints, bean sprouts and lime, along with Hoi sin Sauce & Nuoc mum (Fish sauce). Pho originates from Northern Vietnam and is usually eaten for breakfast; however you can pick up a bowl at any time of the day or night.
HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE is the closest thing to comfort food for many Singaporeans – a pale but deceptively flavorful rice dish served with ginger mash, chili lime sauce, and sweet black soy sauce. Chicken is poached in a broth containing herbs, garlic, chicken bones, and assorted spices. When the chicken is done, the broth is then used to cook the rice together with pandan leaves and garlic. The resulting rice is yellowish and fatty, thanks to the juices left over from the chicken.
NASI GORENG is an omnipresent national dish of Indonesia is a pleasant twist on fried rice. Cheap and delicious, nasi goreng is enjoyed by locals and travelers alike throughout Indonesia’s 19,000 islands.Yellowish-orange nasi goreng is prepared with firm rice cooked the night before. Spices such as garlic, chili, and coriander lend the famous dish an Indian influence. A fried egg and crispy shrimp cracker add a little extra excitement to the meal.
KANG KEAW WAN of Thailand literally translated as “Sweet Green Curry”, is nicely sweet and slightly spicy and tastes very delightful with a proper blend of the spiciness from green curry chili paste, blandness from coconut milk, sweetness of sugar and saltiness of fish sauce. It is usually eaten with steamed rice or served as a sauce to rice noodle known as “Kanom Jeen” a more ’spaghetti-like’ noodle.
NASI LEMAK is the national dish of Malaysia. Nasi lemak literally means ‘rice in cream’. There are many regional variations, but the most common ones consist of steamed rice that is cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves, which is a kind of plant indigenous to this region. Traditionally served on banana leaf, the rice is topped with cucumber slices, dried anchovies, roasted nuts and hard-boiled egg. But the most important ingredient is the ‘sambal’, a kind of hot spicy sauce made from chilli, pepper and spices. In fact, how delicious a nasi lemak is really depends on how well the ‘sambal’ is made! Most people will eat nasi lemak accompanied by a dish like chicken, cuttle fish, cockles, beef, or beef rendang which is beef cooked in dried spices, and vegetables.
CARROT CAKE of Singapore contains no carrots – the main ingredient is white radish, which is known locally as “white carrot”, hence the name. The “carrot” is grated, combined with rice flour and water then steamed into cakes. These cakes are diced and stir-fried with eggs, pickled radish, garlic, and spring onion. Some outlets will serve carrot cake with shrimp or diced mushroom, and all hawker centers will give you a choice of “black” (fried with sweet soy sauce) or “white” (straight). You can also ask for a dash of chili powder to give that carrot cake an extra kick.
ADOBO is considered the national dish of the Philippines it’s protein braised in vinegar until pungent and rich, sweet and sour and salty at once, sometimes crisped at the edges in high heat, always served with the remaining sauce. Its excellence derives from the balance of its flavors, in the alchemy of the process. Cooking softens the acidity of the vinegar, which then combines with the flavor of the meat to enhance it. Adobo can be done on any kind of meat. Most Filipinos use either pork or chicken; and some even use a combination of both.
CHILI CRAB is Singapore’s most famous dish, a greasy and spicy seafood concoction that simply cannot be enjoyed unless you dive in with your bare hands. Each hard-shell crab is cooked in a paste made of garlic, onions, ginger, sesame oil, black rice vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and ground chili. Eggs and cornflour thicken the mixture, until you get a velvety, savory sauce coating a piping hot crab in its shell. To eat chili crab, diners hack at the shell with a mallet and use their fingers to tease out the crabmeat; some restaurants serve hot buns to help sop up the remaining sauce.
SOM TUM (Spicy Green Papaya Salad) originated from the Northeast state of Isaan, this outlandish dish is both great divider – some can’t get enough of its bite, some can’t handle it – and greatly distinctive. Garlic, chilies, green beans, cherry tomatoes and shredded raw papaya get dramatically pulverized in a pestle and mortar, so releasing a rounded sweet-sour-spicy flavour that’s not easily forgotten. Regional variations throw peanuts, dry shrimp or salted crab into the mix, the latter having a gut-cleansing talent that catches many newcomers by surprise!
FRESH LUMPIA ( fresh spring rolls )is one of the most popular among the Philippine variant, consist of minced ubod (heart of palm), flaked chicken, crushed peanuts, and turnips as an extender in a double wrapping of lettuce leaf and a yellowish egg crepe. The accompanying sauce is made from chicken or pork stock, a starch mixture, and fresh garlic. This variety is not fried and is usually around 2 inches in diameter and 6 inches in length.
BANH XEO is a crispy Vietnamese Pancake filled with pieces of pork, school prawns & bean sprouts, which when cooked and crispy is folded in half and is about the size of a large plate. Banh Xeo is not very well known in the west, yet everyone I have ever suggested it to or made it for has absolutely loved it. As with most Vietnamese dishes Banh Xeo is quite simple yet bursting with freshness and flavour.
CHILLI PAN MEE has become a ‘must-not-miss’ signature noodle dish if you visit Malaysia. The noodles texture must be just right, not too hard neither too soft. The combination of the minced pork, bull’s eye egg, the crispy fried anchovies and the indispensable flaky chili sauce give a very unique and absolutely delicious flavor.
GADO-GADO is a traditional dish in Indonesian cuisine, Gado means “mixed” in Indonesian and is a vegetable salad served with a peanut sauce dressing, eaten as a main dish. It is widely served from hawkers carts, stalls (warung) as well as in restaurants both in Indonesia and worldwide. Unlike any Indonesian spicy foods, gado-gado tastes light yet authentic. Imagine the fusion of stewed cabbage, chopped fried Tempeh and tofu, chopped cucumbers, boiled-egg, bean sprouts, and stewed long beans, served with finely-crushed peanut sauce, ‘kerupuk udang’ (shrimp crackers), and ‘emping’ (salted chips).